What’s next for Silver Lake’s reservoirs? Here’s one idea

Silver Lake and Ivanhoe reservoirs now. Photo courtesy Robert Lamb

Proposed changes would add more water-cleaning wetlands and parkland. Rendering courtesy Robert Lamb

Sometime later this decade the Silver Lake and Ivanhoe reservoirs will no longer store drinking water after the new underground Headworks Reservoir is completed and goes online. What happens next to the Silver Lake reservoirs? City and community leaders have pledged to maintain the reservoirs as open bodies of water – surrounded by a popular walking path and pricey hillside homes – but it will probably be several years before serious discussions and planning begin to decide what if any changes take place.  However, at least one person –  architect and urban planner Robert Lamb of Silver Lake – has decided to get the ball rolling. Lamb has come up with an idea for the future of the reservoirs called the Silver Lake Microshed. Instead of storing drinking water, the reservoirs would  hold and help clean water that would replenish underground aquifers.

The idea calls for reducing the need to pump in imported water by tapping into storm drains and water reclamation plants and expanding the green space around the reservoirs.  That water would be filtered and cleaned as it percolates down through new wetlands and parkland, which would reduce the size of the reservoirs, an especially touchy issue for those who have paid top dollar to live with a view of the water.

But, Lamb argues on his website, that “reducing dependence on imported water is critical to the survival of Silver Lake.”

Lamb said his concept which he fleshed out with a $10,000 grant from the Dryland Competition,  would cut down on the supply of fresh water pumped into the reservoirs, replenish the underground aquifers that stretch across the L.A. basin and provide more open space for residents as well as wildlife habitat for birds and other animals. Lamb, however, does not have a price tag to bring the Silver Lake Microshed to life but he said it can be built and implemented in stages as funds become available.

Lamb’s idea is just that for now and there are certain to be others that will be hashed out and debated over endless meetings to figure out a solution. Craig Collins, head of the Silver Lake Reservoirs Conservancy, said the reservoirs must be viewed as  part of the larger watersheds that define the entire basin, including the Ballona Creek watershed and the Los Angeles River.

“This solution must preserve the public enjoyment we treasure, while offering solutions to the major concerns of stormwater management, water pollution, and conserving that most precious resource on which all life depends,” said Collins.
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  1. It is nice to see they are going to maintain the reservoirs as open bodies of water. I am sure it will be a great view by the time they are done landscaping the walk way.

  2. I’ve already bought my jet ski!

  3. I’m glad they’re preserving the reservoirs, but I agree that their future depends on a reduced (and, I’d suggest, elimination of any) dependence on imported freshwater. Why should the rest of us give up the precious resource of fresh water just so that people living around the Lake can enjoy their view?

    It doesn’t really make sense to me to have a lake that depends on imported fresh water to exist.

  4. Except that the reservoir is lined with concrete in order to keep the water in. Even if you went to a more conventional bentonite bottom, there would be little percolation. If you did in fact build something that would recharge the aquifer, it would end up looking more like the spreading grounds that we already have to recharge the aquifer, and those sure don’t look like lakes except for after a good rain. It would not be Silverlake, but Swampy Valley. On the plus side, there would be an actual meadow instead of an irrigated lawn that is erroneously called a meadow, so there’s that.

  5. Looks like an interesting plan. The reservoirs definitely should be preserved as open bodies of water. They really are an LA landmark. I think they should restrict access to the water to protect the wildlife and birds. We have too little nature in LA as it is.

    • I agree that access to the actual water should be restricted, but I really hope they remove that ugly fence and create additional park space all around (trails, picnic areas, gardens, etc.)

      Perhaps a short fence at the edge of the water would suffice (kinda like this: http://gothamist.com/assets_c/2011/07/2011_07_cpreservoir-thumb-640xauto-640685.jpg).

      • Why should access be restricted, to protect seagulls and cormarants? Sure, prohibit powered craft or craft over a certain size, but people should be allowed to kayak and canoe on it. There aren’t that many stillwater locations for people to enjoy in SC.

        • Actually that would be pretty rad, maybe they can set aside space for wetlands / wildlife, as well as an area for paddle boats and kayaks… the space is very large.

  6. They need to immediately spray green paint with contrasting green circles along the walking path……


    Or cinder block pathways perhaps……

  7. This is an interesting idea. I’m not sure I would back it yet, but it is interesting.

    One big concern I have is the water proposed to go in there. Storm runoff from the streets is pretty toxic stuff, and I do not trust it to be wonderfully and magically filtered on its way through the ground to the water table. For one thing, the “filtered” stuff has no place to do but down into the water table eventually anyway. And eventually that ground it is “filtered” through will become unbelievably toxic with the filtered matter.

    Such replenishing of the water table already is done by county flood control, but that is not the storm runoff or “reclaimed” water they are spreading to replenish the water table but the water naturally coming from the watershed.

    As for reclaimed water, no, I do not want that going into the water table that is used for drinking water. “Reclaimed” is a euphemism for the sewage from home, including the toilet. I don’t want that in drinking water. Without thinking, I am fine with it for things like watering golf courses and parks — but I better rethink that as it would end up in the water table from that anyway.

    Also, as pointed out, that is a reservoir with a concrete bottom. The plan has been that it will hold an emergency backup of water for when needed in a catastrophe. If instead it is filled with filthy water needing to be filtered through the ground or other, then it would be unusable in a crisis, we would not have the backup that will provide.

    • Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    • First, the filtration caused by percolation isn’t just mechanical. It is also fungal and bacteriological. That means the toxic stuff gets broken down. This is especially true of hydrocarbons, although heavy metals, not so much.

      With regards to reclaimed water, it is highly filtered and treated before being released. It is quite safe although it is high in nitrogen. It is far cleaner than septic tank effluent. You should check out the Japanese garden at the water reclamation plant in the valley. The entire thing is run of reclaimed water including the koi pond. By the time it gets to the aquifer, it is harmless except that depending on the soil composition, large amounts of nitrogen can make its way in to aquifer. That can be problematic.

  8. Yes to More Parkland!

    The obvious (and inexpensive) first step to implementing this plan is opening up the long, large swath of land on West Silver Lake for public use. It’s always so sad to walk by what could be a beautiful, tree-lined hangout space but instead sits sad and unused behind a chain-link fence.

  9. @Bob — I think you are misinformed about the source for water in LA. The city of LA does not use ground water (e.g., from wells) for drinking water. Our water is brought in from outside via aqueducts.

    Pasadena does use wells for some drinking water (and during some months, you can tell — it will be more mineral-rich). They try to divert runoff from the San Gabriels thru the Arroyo Seco into ground water to replenish the wells. Filtration of runoff in this way is routine. It’s all sanitized before use anyway. Nothing to freak out over.

  10. From what I’ve seen, this is a great plan to aspire to. My front yard is the Ivanhoe Reservoir, and even though I’m concerned about the negative aspects (crowds, traffic, parking, loss of beautiful fauna and flora wildlife), this seems really inspired. I would be more than happy to our beautiful neighborhood with more visitors in exchange to be able walk in the gorgeous grass and trees in the DWP area in front of my house. The distribution of new park space with continued wildlife preserve is a positive idea.

    About the Eastsider though, I find it fascinating that people have 8 million things to post about one new wall on a private building on Sunset Blvd. restaurant, and almost no feedback on proposed changes to Silver Lake’s single greatest and most beautiful resource, our reservoirs. I love, love, love these bodies of water and the effect they have on our community, and the idea of increasing our opportunity to enjoy them seems incredibly important to every stakeholder.

  11. @ Pretty Whiny

    Yes, there is something to freak out over. It takes years(never in some cases) for water to naturally filtered underground. The DWP does use the well water for drinking water but a large majority are out of service due to aquifer contamination and in some areas it is getting worse. It takes large sums of money and equipment to correct this problem, the LADWP and Pasadena Water and Power both rely heavily on imported water. The article below talks about this problem but does not talk about the numerous wells that utilities have abandoned due to contamination.
    Also, surface water is the hardest to filter and treat.

  12. @JS — You’re right. One way to explain this is the bike shed analogy:


    Anyone can have a valid opinion on the color of a bike shed (or in a recent example, a polka dotted road covering), so everyone will express one.

    Not everyone feels like they have a good opinion on a reservoir, so it escapes comment.

  13. Be careful what you ask for from the DWP. After over 20 years of court ordered mediation,
    ELysian Reservoir is getting a 7 acre rubber cover……rather than 14 acres of landscaped parkland over buried tanks……..makes you wonder………


  14. DWP can’t just fill the reservoir with potable water that will inevitably just evaporate into the air. The use of reclaimed water or storm water is the only way I can see this survives as an artificial lake.

  15. CONDOS!!!

    we need more and more condos in Hipster Lake

    they can be named the DJ BENTO CO-OP Condominiums

  16. Meanwhile the Rowena Reservoir up the street is still fenced off… sigh.

    • Wunderkind Nicht

      what do we need to do to get that one opened?

      • Rowena Ave Resident

        Looks like they’ve finally refilled it after draining/cleaning last year, though not sure what that means for its reopening. It’s quite a joke – and a testament to the incompetency of LA local gov’t – that this beautiful area is still off limits to residents.

  17. Thank goodness the Conservancy fought for and continues to fight for public space in and around the Reservoir.

    The anti-public space residents in Silver Lake still seem bitter that they failed to keep the Reservoir grounds, such as the walking paths and the Meadow, from opening and allowing access to the public.  With the success of those shared spaces, the anti-public space groups (you know, the one’s who tried to turn the Meadow into a private park, who try to convince you that yoga in the Meadow is bad for the neighborhood, who went AGAINST the larger community to insist on having dogs in the Meadow, and who didn’t do a thing to try to get a crosswalk to provide safe passage for the numerous families trying to access those wonderful public spaces) are probably frustrated.  If they’d put the same energy into doing something for the larger Silver Lake community rather than just into their own private, special interests, they might actually accomplish something.

    The Conservancy fought to make those public spaces, paths, and crosswalk possible for the larger community.  Make more public spaces in the Reservoir, give them to the people, and that makes it more likely that the Reservoir grounds stay public and accessible to all.

    Of course, this is all just my opinion.

  18. Wunderkind Nicht

    then why do they support a project like this? or the meadow? or the jogging path? your comments makes no sense. you dont like that they are big on public space, huh? or that the majority of the neighborhood wants more park space? i guess you want us to believe they are all Arab or Muslim or weren’t born in the US too right?

  19. Ivanhoe reservoir could be used as a storage battery when Silverlake neighborhood goes solar (roofs). During the day surplus solar power would be used to pump Ivanhoe water into Silverlake negligibly raising Silverlake’s water level while emptying Ivanhoe. At night when the stored power is needed, water would be poured back into Ivanhoe while driving a turbine to generate electricity.

  20. swimming!!!!!!!

  21. Swimming hole!!!!!!!

    And whats up with the Rowena Reservoir? Is that a pretty park exclusively for the use of DWP workers?

  22. I also hear that a group has formed to open that space for a Casino. Would be a perfect way to really use up and enjoy that property. Aqua Silverrado coming soon.

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